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Marblehead Planning Board Emphasizes Need for Community Input on ADUs 

On November 9, at the end of the most recent meeting of the Marblehead Planning Board, member Andrew Christensen concluded with a plea for more public feedback on the proposal for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) that has been under development by the Board over the past several months. “I think Marblehead is very special and unique,” he said. And, just because something is being done in other communities, “doesn’t mean that it is right for our very special town.” Noting that public comment is essential to getting this process right, Christensen continued, “that’s the challenge; I don’t know how to get the word out and get the feedback.” 


Andrew’s concern was echoed by a number of other Board members both on November 9 and during the Board’s previous meeting on November 1, with Chair Bob Schaeffner noting that the Board “would love to broaden the input” by hearing from a wide range of Marblehead citizens.


Marbleheaders will have the opportunity to heed these calls during a public forum scheduled for Tuesday, November 15, 2022 from 6:30 to 7:30pm. Everyone is encouraged to attend. Zoom link information is provided below.


What Are ADUs?

The Planning Board recognized that part of the problem with getting community feedback on ADUs is a certain degree of prevailing confusion about what exactly they are.


An Accessory Dwelling Unit, or ADU, is essentially a secondary housing unit built on the same property as a primary unit. Sometimes called in-law apartments, ADUs can be located inside the main house, within an outside structure on the property, in their own separate structure on the property, or as an addition added on to the main structure.


Marblehead Beacon has reported on two previous Planning Board meetings focused on discussing the approval of ADUs in Marblehead, in June and September of this year. 


And For What Purpose Are They Intended?

A primary topic of discussion at both the November 1 and November 9 Planning Board meetings was the question of the purposes for which ADUs should be allowed in Marblehead homes. There are essentially two separate approaches. The first involves limiting the use of ADUs to family members and caregivers, with the focus on providing options to better support elderly residents who want to stay in their homes or move in with their children.


The second, broader approach, involves allowing ADUs for any purpose, including for homeowners who want to convert a garage or extra space into a rental unit for the purpose of bringing in extra income. Within the latter category, there is further discussion as to whether the rental rate should be at fair market value or should be limited to some percentage of fair market value, such as 70 percent, to allow for more affordable housing within a community. 


Differing Perspectives of Planning Board Members

The meeting on November 1 began with the assumption that the Planning Board would present two different proposals to Town Meeting. Town Planner Rebecca Curran Cutting explained that the first would allow for ADUs only “for family members and caregivers,” and the goal would be “to maximize privacy, dignity, and independent living among family members preserving domestic family bonds as well as to protect the stability, property values, and the residential character of the neighborhood.” 


Schaeffner raised concerns about imposing this limitation, noting that he did not support the idea of breaking the ADU proposal into two different components. “I think it should be at its broadest level,” he said, and went on to express skepticism that it would be possible to define who would qualify as family.


Member Ed Nilsson appeared to agree with Schaeffner, but also expressed concern that putting forward an unlimited proposal for anyone to construct an ADU for any reason could risk approval at Town Meeting. “We don’t want to end up with nothing,” he said.


On November 9, with several additional Planning Board members in attendance who were not able to attend the November 1 meeting, the conversation about the purpose of ADUs became more contentious. Cutting presented a new version of the proposal, specifying that ADUs would be allowed both “for family members and caregivers and to add rental units to the housing stock to meet the needs of households.” 


Christensen questioned this combined purpose, asking to return to the bifurcation model whereby there would be two different proposals, one for increasing affordable housing and a separate one for helping the elderly. “If this gets defeated at Town Meeting with everything under one,” he said, “we have lost an opportunity.”


Member Barton Hyte agreed, noting that as the representative on the Fair Housing Production Plan, he had heard overwhelming support for finding ways to help the elderly, with pure affordable housing falling “way, way down on the totem pole.” Hyte expressed concern about the possibility of allowing every single house in Marblehead to construct an ADU by right. “I don’t want Marblehead to become like California or New York,” he said. “I could build an ADU in my garage, and everyone on my street could too. That’s truly outrageous.”


Ferrante expressed her interest in finding the best way to allow for some version of ADU approval to succeed. “I think we need to see, is there some huge demand for it? We don’t know what our town will want. I don’t think people will support by-right ADUs.”


Schaeffner disagreed about the risk of failure with a proposal that opened up ADUs for all purposes, asking for a specific explanation of the issues with doing it this way. Hyte responded, “I don’t want to see the elderly get defeated because we say we are going after everything, and we open Pandora’s Box.” He noted, “I am trying to protect the neighborhoods in Marblehead,” and reiterated that ADUs for all purposes were not, to his understanding, what came out of the Fair Housing Plan.


Market Value or Mandated Affordable Rates?

The discussion pivoted at this point to whether rental units, if offered to those beyond family and caregivers, should be limited to some percentage of fair market value or should be allowed to charge full market rates without restriction. On the one hand, suggested Schaeffner, limiting to below market rental rates might discourage homeowners from undergoing the expense of adding an ADU. Hyte countered that Fair Market rates, which could be in the range of $2,500 to $3,000 per month, would still be inaccessible for the lower income individuals that the proposal is designed to help, while also potentially encouraging a very large number of houses in town to add the units, contributing to congestion. 


The Board did not reach a resolution on the issue of restricting rental rates, but instead acknowledged once again the significant need for community input.


The public forum on this issue, scheduled for Tuesday, November 15, 2022 from 6:30 to 7:30pm can be accessed here:


To join the Zoom, use this link:


Or, dial in at +1 646 931 3860; Meeting ID 876 4422 6061 and Passcode: 826686


If you are interested in reviewing previous Planning Board meetings, they can be requested by sending an email to


Editor’s Note: Jennifer Schaeffner, a founding member and reporter for Marblehead Beacon, is married to Planning Board Chair Bob Schaeffner.